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Great white sharks get more protection in California

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Great white sharks may get full protection under the California Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy Terry Goss via Wikimedia and a GNU Free Documentation License.

Candidate status under the state’s endangered species act bans any take

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a few decades after Jaws, there’s been a sea change in public attitudes about sharks, as people recognize the importance of the ocean’s apex predators.

Along with other recent shark conservation measures, the shift is reflected by the efforts to list great white sharks under the California Endangered Species Act. Starting March 1, great whites will have additional protection as a candidate species under the act.

While there is still some scientific debate about whether California’s great whites need protection, the California Fish and Game Commission has ruled that the sharks may be warranted for listing and will get all the protection of the act until a final listing decision is made.

State biologists say there aren’t very good population estimates for great whites in California waters, but add that there is general agreement that their numbers are low, as is typical for long-lived, slow-growing apex predators

Scientists have been trying to get a better handle on the population by using DNA samples, or by recording distinctive superficial markings like scars to track sightings. By some estimates, there may be as few as 100 adult great whites in California’s coastal waters.

Researchers have also tagged sharks with transmitters to enable satellite tracking. One tagged shark was recently tracked moving to Hawaii and back two years in a row.

Great white sharks are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ “Red List” of threatened species, and are now regionally protected in many areas of the world including South Africa, Namibia, the Maldives, Malta, Australia, the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard and Gulf Coast (including Florida), and the coast of California.

Since they don’t have full international protection, a sizable black market network perpetuates the sale of white shark jaws and teeth.

Similar to the federal law, the California Endangered Species Act bans the take of listed or candidate species, even if that take is incidental to otherwise lawful activity, unless authorized by permit. As defined in state law, take means “hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill.”

Anyone who takes a white shark without a permit may be cited for violations of the law and subject to criminal prosecution, the state’s fish and wildlife department announced this week.

“While targeted sport and commercial fishing for white shark has been banned in waters off California since the mid-1990s, there were some exceptions that allowed for incidental take and take associated with research activities,” said Marci Yaremko, program manager for state and federal marine fisheries at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The Department now will consider exceptions only on a case-by-case basis, and will authorize take only under permits issued pursuant to CESA.”

Under CESA, research permits may be issued for bona fide scientific research relating to white sharks. An incidental take permit may also be obtained by commercial fishing operations or others whose non-research activities may result in take. Information regarding CESA permitting is available on the department’s website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/habcon/cesa/.

The Commission received a petition to list the Northeast Pacific population of white shark as either threatened or endangered in August 2012. Now that the species is a candidate, CDFW will conduct an in-depth status review to provide the Commission with information to aid in its decision on whether or not to list the species. The status review is slated for completion by early next year.

More information on white shark and CESA candidacy is available on the Department’s white shark information page: www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/whiteshark.asp.

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